Recall attempt under way against Howard board
By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- If successful, an ongoing recall petition filed by recently formed Howard Township Taxpayers Watchdog Organization would remove six Howard Township officials from the Township Board.
A recall petition has been filed against Howard Township Supervisor Hal Davis, Treasurer Eileen Glick, and trustees Mike Gordon, George Johnson, Craig Bradfield and Mike Richmond.
Township Clerk Linda Leet is not included in the recall effort.
The watchdog organization, made up of four Howard township residents, filed the recall petition with Cass County because they claim to have found evidence of spending irregularities in several key areas by the township board.
The organization's founding members are Tom Kennedy, a former Howard Township Supervisor; Larry Eckler, Howard Township farmer and businessman, and two long-time township residents, Tony Anderson and Mike Smith.
For the recall to be successful, the group must collect a minimum of 438 names for each individual being recalled within 90 days of the first signature obtained.
The organization claims spending irregularities include per diem payments, which is an allowance for daily expenses, the awarding of gift certificates to volunteers and representatives appointed by the township board, and the use of cell phones and auto allowances by the township supervisor and the treasurer, amounting to $48,000.
When asked, board members agreed to pay back $1,120 of that amount to the township, Smith said.
A conditional permit issued by the township board to Moose Lake LLC for the expansion of that company's gravel pit operation at Moose Lake is another reason the petition was filed, Smith said, as is the township board's decision to support Indeck Energy Service by giving them right of way for electrical infrastructure through Howard Township for their proposed power plant. Smith said that move was made against the wish of some community members.
In addition, Treasurer Eileen Glick allegedly wrote a $79,000 check that would cover three to four township office employees in a new pension fund without the second signature required by the township clerk, Smith said.
According to a township board member, however, that check was never cashed.
Howard Township Attorney John Lohrstorfer of Bauckham, Sparks, Rolfe, Lohrstorfer and Thall, P.C. Attorneys at Law in Kalamazoo, strongly disagrees with the complaints of financial misconduct made against the township officials.
Except for certain per diem meeting expenses involving special meetings or budget meetings attended by township officers, the allegations aren't correct, he said.
On May 9, Howard Township Auditor James F. Scarpone and Lohrstorfer, responded to a letter sent to them by Eckler and Smith.
The response was in regard to Eckler and Smith's complaints that monies paid out in the last two years by the township were not lawful expenditures.
Lohrstorfer represents 24 townships in Michigan and lectures township board members on a regular basis how to operate within run townships.
Before responding to the letter, Lohrstorfer said he thoroughly checked with other accounting agencies in Michigan's Township Association for financial information about Howard Township. He said he found nothing that supported the watchdog organization's claims.
Lohrstorfer is concerned about the financial allegations made against the board members, which he said can smear a person's reputation.
He said he's worried Eckler and Smith are going after the township board members because they disapprove of them.
Lohrstorfer said the two have allegedly tried to find mistakes made by township officials for several years, "just to go on a fishing expedition to see what you can find."
Lohrstorfer also said he questions why there is no current investigation regarding the alleged financial misconduct by the township board.
In his experience working with townships, Lohrstorfer said it's normal to see recall attempts on one or two board members.
However, "it's not typical to see six or seven up for recall," he said, and added that Eckler and Smith have been very vocal about what decisions this township board has made over the last two years.
He said he wouldn't be surprised if some of the township board members eventually sue for libel.
Treasurer Eileen Glick, who is also the township zoning administrator, is angry about the accusations being made against her and her fellow board members.
She said the watchdog organization is painting a narrow picture of who the township members are.
Glick said she thinks the watchdog organization is a radical group of people who feel they have people who can do a better job than the current township board members, and that that's the reason for the recall petition.
And, even if they don't get the recall and the 438 votes they need, the damage is already done, she said.
The allegations made against her and the other board members, however, is not deterring her from running in next year's Howard Township election.
Glick testified in front of Michigan's House of Representatives in Lansing on Tuesday.
Her testimony will be used in a state effort to change township recall laws.